My Dad used to go into the hardware store and gaze upon the nuts, bolts and screws. It’s not that he actually knew how to fix things, and he never bought anything. He just liked looking. Maybe he thought it would help him be more of a fix-it type, but alas, although he was a terrific Dad, he wasn’t so handy around the house.
I am just like him. Except that I don’t go to hardware stores (the first time I ventured into a Home Depot I was so shocked at its sheer size and the quantity of things it sells that I started hyperventilating).
Nope, I go to specialty food stores and gaze upon the spices and spice blends. I like cooking with spices and using different ones to give flavor and add interest to the foods I cook.
But, like my Dad, I never buy the spice blends.
I make my own. Because I like the idea of creating my own versions, even my own versions of familiar spice blends such as Jerk, Herbs de Provence and Cajun seasoning. And that’s because I know my tastes and my family’s tastes and know to add more or less of this or that or leave some ingredient out completely instead of relying on what someone else thinks the blend should taste like.
So, I was intrigued recently to read about a spice blend I hadn’t cooked with: Baharat.
Baharat is an Arabic spice blend, used in dishes throughout the Middle East. The name just means “spices” so you can imagine that anything goes.
Well, almost anything. Recipes for this particular blend are similar, and usually include cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and coriander. Some have heat thanks to cayenne or black pepper. Some contain sweet dried mint. And so on. Baharat is also similar to ras el hanout, another Middle Eastern blend.
I tinkered with the recipe a few times until I got it right, using chicken as my foil. But this is a blend that you could sprinkle on lamb or fish and certain vegetables (such as eggplant and roasted tomatoes). Or mix into cooked rice or couscous or vegetable soup. Go easy at first and discover the depth of flavor this blend can give to food.
Here’s my version of Baharat. Some people make it by grinding their own spices, but I just mixed the pre-ground ones.
There’s also a recipe for a very simple baked chicken that is an easy dish to cook for daily dinner — but it is also intriguing enough for a company meal.
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix the ingredients completely. Makes about 1/4 cup
Baked Chicken with Baharat, Garlic and Mint
One broiler-fryer chicken, cut up
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Baharat
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse and dry the chicken pieces and place them in a baking pan. Brush the skin with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the mint, garlic, Baharat and salt to taste. Turn the breast pieces skin side down in the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Turn the chicken pieces. Continue to bake for about 30 minutes basting occasionally with any pan juices, or until cooked through. Makes 4 servings.